Saturday, August 27, 2011

The high country

I emerge from my warm cocoon - my sleeping bag - and come out into the early Sierra morning… The sun has not yet reached our camp and it is very cold. Judy has not yet wakened… First I heat water on the propane stove for coffee and then I build a small warming fire – Dry sagebrush is the best of all woods for starting a campfire! (We filled the back seat of our car with sage when we went down to Lee Vining.) The small twigs catch quickly and soon I have warm orange flames. Sage smoke has a special fragrance that evokes memories of other times and other places. My uncle once told me that he learned from an Indian friend “White men build big fires and they must stay far from the fire and can't get properly warm – Indians build small fires and can both warm their whole self and easily cook over the flame”.

The music we heard every night as we went to sleep!

We are in one of our favorite places on Earth – Tuolumne Meadows –this is the 9000 ft level of Yosemite (Yosemite valley is 4000 ft.). Here we pitch our yellow nylon tent and establish our base camp for making hikes into the higher country that surrounds us. Our camp is in a cluster of lodgepole pines not far from the flowing river… People come here to hike into the high country, to fish, or to climb the massive granite rocks. Each day Judy and I have made memorable hikes into incredible country – Some hikes are old friends and some are new adventures.

Second Conness Lake - 11,000 ft. - still half frozen in August!

My wife, Judy, is amazing! She hikes up steep rocky trails. She clambers up rocky surfaces with ease (her preference is to climb up where she can use her hands to hold onto cracks and knobs rather than free walking over exposed high surfaces… We crossed snowfields, forded streams, climbed up to over 11000 ft, and enjoyed together gloriously amazing snow filled glacerial cirques and broad vistas.

Judy climbing a granite face - as we climb the higher Lempert Dome

A moments rest beside a high lake

High Sierra camping is not for sissies – There is a trade off –There are moments that are incredible inspiring and elating - Moments that feed me all year long… It is only here that I find the simple clarity that comes from clean granite, flowing water, flower filled meadows, snow fields that survive the summer, marmots and picas, the relish of a well earned lunch overlooking the whole world below…

Lunch - crackers - cheese - an avocado... oh so good!

I especially love the moments of surprise when I encounter a rare flower, unusual geological formation, an unexpected glacerial tarn lake, mountain hawk. I have a special love for traveling in places where there is no well-defined trail, where it is necessary to use dead reckoning and skills learned over the years.

Plateau and ridge leading to Conness glacier

I love hiking with Judy and sharing the travails and rewards of the climb and the reward. I love the broad vistas that can only be found above timberline. Just below timberline is where clusters of whitebark pine are found:

August snow fields

This is also a hard land – temperatures fall to near freezing every night – even in August. Trails are arduous and sometimes challenging. The high altitude requires slowing way down to get the oxygen needed. (Our bodies produce more O2 carrying red cells – it is helpful to allow a day or two to acclimate before going very high.)

Glacerially formed cliff

There are painful moments and times of fatigue from rocks, slippery ice surfaces, thick willow groves that must be crossed, and intense mosquitoes… There are times when it is necessary to backtrack and try another route.

Glacerial tarn

Oh but the reward of success makes it so worthwhile!